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Biden prepares to fight debt ceiling battle against vulnerable GOP lawmakers


WASHINGTON — As President Joe Biden meets with key Republican leaders in Congress this week to discuss the debt ceiling in an effort to avert a catastrophic default on the nation’s debt, he is also preparing to lead the fight directly against some rank-and-file GOP lawmakers whose votes could become crucial.

Biden’s planned campaign-style trip to suburban New York on Wednesday – a day after meeting with congressional leaders – is the latest step in a White House strategy to pressure House Speaker Kevin McCarthy , R-Calif., In the spending battle in the soft below his shaky majority: House GOP members in the competitive districts Biden won in November.

Biden is heading to the Hudson River Valley district represented by Mike Lawler, a freshman Republican who beat incumbent Democrat Sean Patrick Maloney in November. Lawler was one of five New York Republicans who successfully flipped their seats in the midterm elections by focusing on inflation and crime, two key issues that have hurt Democrats in the polls.

Lawler joined Republicans last month in rallying behind his party’s debt package, the McCarthy bill dubbed the Limit, Save, Grow Act, which would raise the debt ceiling, cut spending and repeal key elements of the program of Biden.

“House Republicans who are running as moderates lined up with the more extreme members of MAGA in this vote, and we are making sure their constituents are aware of the true nature of their priorities,” the official said. White House communications director Ben LaBolt. “It’s up to them whether they will continue to side with MAGA extremists or unite to ensure the country avoids default.”

Democrats called the GOP debt bill — which died upon arrival in the Democratic-led Senate — the “Default on America Act.” Prior to Biden’s visit, Lawler stood by his vote for the GOP package, which represented the first offer in negotiations that have yet to gain momentum.

“My constituents agree that we cannot continue to keep spending at these levels. That’s part of the reason I won,” Lawler said in a phone interview Saturday. “I spoke about the need to rein in reckless spending and reverse much of what Joe Biden has done.”

Retaining Lawler’s seat will be critical to Republicans’ chances of keeping their narrow five-seat majority in the House, and other moderates are under pressure from both sides in the fight against the debt ceiling. Democrats see them as potential votes for what’s called a discharge petition, an emergency measure that would bypass House GOP leadership to force a vote on a “clean” debt ceiling increase.

Even if a sharp increase in the debt ceiling could pass the House, it would face a battle in the Senate, where 43 Republicans signed a letter to Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., over the weekend -end saying they would not vote for “any bill that raises the debt ceiling without substantial spending or budget reforms.

When asked if he could support a two-year raise proposed by House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D.N.Y., Lawler said he was “not going to talk about hypotheticals “.

“But at the end of the day, where we are now, we haven’t failed. We have time to negotiate,” he said. “If the president and Chuck Schumer are counting on that as a solution , I think they made a miscalculation.

“Of course, the goal is to absolutely 100% avoid default,” Lawler said after Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned last week that the deadline to extend the debt ceiling or face the first US default could be as early as June 1.

Biden said in an interview on Friday that he was ready to negotiate with Republicans “in detail” on an overarching budget bill, but he insisted that the discussion on the debt ceiling be kept completely separate, and he reiterated its call for a “clean” increase, without restrictions. . He called McCarthy an “honest man” under pressure from “MAGA Republicans” and noted that it took him 15 votes to win the presidency in January.

Asked about a response to the president’s planned trip, McCarthy’s spokesman Mark Bednar told NBC News that Biden “should focus his attention on not defaulting rather than traveling across the country screaming. to Americans who know that spending has gotten out of hand.”

A new White House analysis of the potential impacts of the GOP debt bill has argued that benefits would be reduced for tens of thousands of veterans in a sample of 18 congressional districts if the GOP’s vision becomes law – most of them the same swivel seats.

Lawler accused the White House of “misleading the public” about the GOP debt package.

“There’s nothing in the bill that specifically cuts anything,” said Lawler, whose district in the lower Hudson River Valley borders one of the largest VA medical centers in the state. . “The president has often spoken about how he is bipartisan and he wanted to work with Republicans to get deals done. Well, here’s an opportunity to work together.

The VA hospital is in the congressional district represented by Pat Ryan, a Democrat who won a special election last year to represent a hotly contested swing district.

“It’s a safe assumption that you cut everything you didn’t say you were going to protect in the shot,” Ryan said Sunday. “And nothing pisses me off more than when you play with veterans. Every American should know that this bill proposed 22% cuts in veterans care across the country. »

Ryan, a veteran of the Iraq War in his first term, was the only freshman to join Biden on his trip to Ireland last month. Unlike some other vulnerable Democrats, he has publicly pledged to back the president for another term.

“We need to act quickly to avoid the default. Republicans threatening economic disaster while holding our veterans’ health care hostage is not the answer,” he said.

White House officials have publicly and privately expressed confidence that the GOP’s tightrope strategy will come at a significant political cost. But given dire warnings from the administration about the potential economic fallout from even a brief default, there is significant risk of fallout for Biden’s re-election campaign, which should focus on how his economic program has benefited Americans in all income brackets.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll released Sunday found Biden’s approval rating at an all-time low at 36%. By 54% to 36%, more voters said former President Donald Trump handled the economy better in his four years than Biden in his first two.

Even though the White House has insisted that the debt ceiling should be handled separately from a spending discussion, White House officials and congressional Democrats are considering proposing a short-term debt increase. that would give the two sides more time to negotiate on parallel tracks before the usual Oct. 1 deadline for Congress to pass the annual appropriations bills.

Asked if he would be open to an increase in the short-term debt ceiling, Rep. Patrick McHenry, RN.C., a close McCarthy ally, said Sunday he thinks “everything is on the table at this point”.

“The key piece that needs to be in that equation is to tackle our fiscal house, both short-term and long-term,” he said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

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